The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (2023)

It’s no overstatement to say that Apple’s original AirPods Pro are everywhere. You can’t travel on the London Underground without noticing dozens of wearers within mere moments. And they’re ubiquitous for good reason.

Apple may not have invented noise-cancelling earbuds, but it made them seriously convenient for any iPhone wielder with the launch of the Pros in late 2019. These tiny white buds are packed full of clever tech and housed in a mini charging case that makes them far more pocketable than most rivals.

If we’re honest, we didn’t think there’d be much to change. Apple’s only gone and proved us wrong with its updated AirPods Pro 2, though. These take just about every conceivable critique of the first generation to improve and polish, making them the all-around best buds for anybody happily existing within Apple’s walled garden. They cancel more noise, sound better and last longer – yes, it’s an iterative update but if your Pros are ageing or you’re replacing earphones from another brand, you can’t go wrong with these.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ​​​​​​​

The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (1)

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ​​​​​​​

  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (2)Convenient features for Apple users
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (3)Amazing ANC and transparency
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (4)Rich and detailed, even at low volumes
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (5)Still Lightning rather than USB-C
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (6)Not the best for battery life
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (7)Still only come in white

Inside and Out

The first thing to mention is that Apple has changed very little about the outside of the earbuds. There’s a 50% chance we’d probably pick our old AirPods if both cases were sat next to each other on the side table.

The white case is around the same size and weight and the buds inside maintain the same look and design (no colour options here too, sadly). However, there are subtle changes. Apple has moved around sensors to improve performance and added a lanyard loop and speaker to the case (more on that later).

On the inside, it has levelled up the brains of these earbuds, switching over from the H1 chip to the new H2. What does that mean? The next-gen processor is at the heart of everything the buds do, from audio quality to transparency mode and active noise-cancelling (ANC) – it fits twice as many transistors into the chipset when compared to the original, making for better efficiency, performance and battery life.

The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (8)

Sounds Better Than Before

What about the all-important sound quality? Apple has made serious improvements here too, and while you could easily mix up the original Pros and the new ones on looks alone, we think the difference is clear once they’re in your ears. That’s not to say the first generation doesn’t sound great, because it does, but these are better still.

Like the predecessors, these use “Adaptive EQ” to tweak the sound using an inward-facing microphone. The notion is that they’ll adapt to how everyone’s ears are different, without you needing to do anything. In our experience, we’ve got no complaints.

In terms of comparing these to the old ones, there’s more detail, clarity and precision. By and large, they continue the same relatively neutral approach, but they’ve got a surprisingly good soundstage and we noticed more sub-bass punch, especially when listening to tracks like Massive Attack’s ‘Angel’ and The xx’s ‘Fantasy’.

The presence of the mids – especially vocals – also impressed us when we threw on ‘Rolling in the Deep’ by Adele. Due to streaming quality, the sound is a smidge better with tunes on Apple Music as opposed to those on Spotify, which makes them all the better for Apple fans.

Another worthwhile mention is Apple’s spatial audio, which creates an immersive 360-degree cinematic effect when watching movies and shows from Apple, Disney+, Netflix and more. It also works for certain songs with Apple Music, although we find that implementation a bit more hit-and-miss.

When watching the latest episodes of Andor, though, the surround sound effect is incredible and reason enough for movie fans to pick these buds. There’s a new “personalised” mode here too (and on the first-gen buds through a firmware update), and while it’s hard to notice the difference, the whole experience is still excellent.

Now You Hear Me, Now You Don’t

Apple says that the new H2 chip cancels twice as much noise as the previous generation, and we’ve found this to be pretty accurate. Switch noise cancelling on and there’s an immediate sensation of the din of the world around you disappearing. Blissful.

We used them in several typical situations for ANC – they cancelled out the sound of our tube carriage, the chatter of our colleagues at the office, the wind blowing on a blustery day, and the noise of cars on the road (it’s at this point that you might start to wonder if impressive ANC is a bit of a danger, which is where transparency comes in).

Overall, we could tell that the noise-cancelling is now able to target a greater range of frequencies, as the previous model wouldn’t always be able to eliminate higher-frequency noises like people talking. We also noticed that the combination of this ANC and Adaptive EQ meant we barely had to put the volume much past 60% to still hear all the layers and details within a track. It’s also worth saying that those with smaller ears will get on better with these new buds, as they come with ‘extra small’ size ear tips, the ‘small’ was as low as it went previously.

Apple was already the leader when it comes to transparency, and now it’s even better with the adaptive capabilities on the AirPods Pro 2. This function (which is on by default for your transparency mode but can be switched off) still amplifies external sounds to help you stay aware of your surroundings but also caps those enhanced sounds at a manageable level, and reduces the volume of anything over 85dB.

It’s clever, helpful and worked well when we tested it out with a very noisy building site that we walk past frequently. With the AirPods in our ears and transparency on, we could tell those sudden environmental sounds were reduced.

The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (9)

Juiced Up

One of the biggest concerns with in-ear headphones is how much battery you can get out of them, especially given how compact they are. What’s impressive is that Apple has changed neither the size of the charging case nor the buds themselves, yet the efficiency improvements mean you’ll get a little more playtime out of them before they need a top-up.

The old ones lasted about four hours and 30 minutes before needing to go on charge, and gave you up to 24 hours when you factor in the case. These ones are better in both areas, you’ll be able to listen for an extended six hours, and you get a solid 30 hours of listening time by using the charging case too. We think this is more than enough for the majority of people. Higher battery life can lead to clunkier designs or chunky cases, which none of us wants.

However, after more than six months of trialling the earbuds, we can report that many users have noted a number of battery issues that Apple has only recently resolved with its firmware updates. These shouldn't be plaguing you if you're looking at new ones that are up-to-date, but we did experience an issue where the case battery drained a lot when not in use. If battery life is a big deal, there are rivals like the Beyerdynamic Free Byrd (which lasts for 11 hours on a single charge) that we'd sooner pick for long-lasting performance.

There are some nice minor charging upgrades in the second-generation AirPods Pros too. These work with any wireless charger but also via an Apple Watch charger too, which is convenient. The case also has MagSafe (like some of the newer first-gen cases) so it’ll snap onto any magnetic station that you’d use to refuel your phone. None of these are what we’d call substantial upgrades, but they’re all things you’ll notice if you bought the Pros in 2019 and are just upgrading now. We just wish they’d add a USB-C port rather than Lightning.

We Rest Our Case

Prone to losing your AirPods case down the side of the sofa? Apple’s got you. With this refresh, the charging case (which includes a lanyard loop) now includes a little speaker and full integration with Apple’s U1 chip that essentially adds the functionality of an AirTag to the earphones.

If they go missing you can make them emit a sound via the Find My app, and it’ll show you their precise location as you hunt them down. That’s not all the speaker can do either, it’ll also chirp when you pop it on a charger and – our favourite – it’ll make a slightly more forlorn series of beeps if you put the buds back in the case and it’s low on battery. It makes for a nice reminder that it’s time to put them on charge.

The presence of the H2 chip also opens a number of little quality-of-life improvements, like the ability to see the battery status of your AirPods Pro on your iPhone while they're nearby, no matter if they’re connected to the phone or not. With the old version, you’d have had to open the lid each time you needed to check the juice, but it’s now much easier to see at a glance.

We also like how they’ll send a battery status alert right to the “Dynamic Island” on an iPhone 14 Pro, while the skin detection sensor makes them more accurate at auto-pausing playback when you take a bud out too. We also love the addition of a subtle swipe control gesture on the stem of the buds to change volume – it works exactly how it should.

We’d struggle to find much to dislike about these but that’s not to say we haven’t got any quibbles. At this point, there are only two minor issues we’d love the AirPods Pro to resolve in a future update, and those are that they really should charge via USB-C already, and it would be appreciated if these came in a few more colours. We’d love them in black.

It's worth noting that in the months after we originally wrote this review, we popped the case into its own case, a lovely green leather model from Woolnut. It's a little thing you can do to make them feel more personalised, but it's a shame that adding a case like this means there's no more upright MagSafe charging.

The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (10)

Apple AirPods Pro 2 Verdict

They’re better in every way, but these are small changes overall. We’re not about to recommend that you rush out and buy the new ones if you already invested in AirPods Pro this year, for instance, but if you have a pair that’s getting on a bit or you want to upgrade to the best ANC buds for your iPhone or iPad, these are the way to go.

Unless you’re philosophically opposed to being “mainstream”, you’ll have zero regrets. You can wear these comfortably all day, pumping out music and podcasts that sound great, without having to worry about a recharge quite as quickly as you needed to before.

While we like several other buds from a huge number of competitors, nothing else offers the convenience of the AirPods for Apple users.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ​​​​​​​

The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (11)

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) ​​​​​​​

  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (12)Convenient features for Apple users
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (13)Amazing ANC and transparency
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (14)Rich and detailed, even at low volumes
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (15)Still Lightning rather than USB-C
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (16)Not the best for battery life
  • The AirPods Pro Upgrade is Worth The Wait (17)Still only come in white

Apple AirPods Pro 2: The Need-to-Know

  • Weight: 5.3g per bud (61.4g with charging case)
  • Battery Life: 6 hours (up to 30 hours with charging case)
  • Quick Charging: 5 minutes in the case provides around an hour of listening time
  • Charging Port: Lightning port, Qi wireless charging, MagSafe charging, supports Apple Watch charger
  • Drivers: Custom drivers, material not specified
  • Water Resistance: IPX4

Apple AirPods Pro 2: Other Rivals to Consider

We have an entire roundup full of the best noise-cancelling earbuds, and it's worth noting that several contenders have launched since Apple unveiled the second generation of its AirPods Pro.

We've tried much of the competition, and while Cupertino's finest still stand out, these are the main AirPods Pro alternatives we'd recommend if you like the size and shape of the Apple buds:

  • Nothing Ear (2) for £129: The London-based startup unveiled its own refresh, adding high-res streaming and multi-point that's lacking from the AirPods while having a similar but lighter form factor (which we find more comfortable). They don't beat the Pros on noise-cancelling or transparency, but we adore the sound quality of these.
  • Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II for £279: Sure, Apple's noise-cancelling is great but Bose wins in the head-to-head when it comes to blocking out a bit more noise across more frequencies. It's close, but we highly recommend these sleek buds and the customisation in the app is excellent
  • Soundcore Liberty 4 for £139.99: These often go for under 100 quid and give you loads of features including spatial audio, multi-point, high-res support, sound personalisation, heart rate tracking and loads of battery life. They do sound pretty bass-boosted but that's customisable. For value, they're hard to beat.
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